Leg deformities in Chaffinches

During my visit to Nant yr Arian a few weeks ago a male Chaffinch appeared and landed on the fence beside the visitor cafe. It was immediately obvious that this bird had significant deformities of both legs.


Male chaffinch with enlarged, pale and scaly legs.

Unaffected female chaffinch for comparison

This scaly, warty appearance is caused by either mites, which burrow under the skin or the Fringilla papilloma virus as both cause very similar symptoms and are almost impossible to differentiate. Whilst most birds affected with this condition appear otherwise healthy, able to feed and behave normally, those with particularly large lesions can have difficulty walking and perching, and are vulnerable to bacterial infections.

Male chaffinch with mildly affected legs
Male chaffinch with a more severe infection, resulting in deformed toes and claws.

It is believe that these diseases are spread through populations via high density sites where birds are in close contact, or shared areas such as bird feeder stations. Therefore regular cleaning and disinfecting of any tables, feeders and perches is essential. Water should also be replaced daily.

Female chaffinch on a bird feeder, a source of transmission for disease


Male chaffinch on a seed feeder

Chaffinches appear to be the most susceptible to these conditions but they are also occasionally seen in other members of the finch family including greenfinches, brambling and goldfinches.

For more information, or to report a sick bird please visit: www.gardenwildlifehealth.org

All photographs copyright of Claire Stott/Grey Feather Photography 2018 ©

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